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The Callisto Protocol and the case for AAAA games: what does it mean?

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The Callisto Protocol and the case for AAAA games: what does it mean?
Written by aquitodovale

It is undeniable that definitions have their own usefulness but – especially in the case of those determined by the market or industry – there is the risk that they will be misleading or worse turn into a cage for the work or for the project they contain, because it is not a question of the explicitation of an object or a concept but of a complex set of these. In videogames, for example, it is becoming increasingly difficult to circumscribe a genre to which the game itself belongs: terms such as “shooter”, “role-playing game” or “platform” are increasingly misleading today in the growing contamination of play categories.

But more than strange, at times really hazy, it appears to me today the cold and barren definition based on “A” which distinguishes the contemporary and recent market, a determination further complicated by the arrival of a questionable “fourth first letter of the alphabet” which would allude to a colossal beyond the colossal. So is it just a definition based on production values? Maybe not, at least according to a marketing intention.

Let’s try to illuminate the shadows of double, triple and even quadruple “A”s to understand how useful and truthful these definitions are, or if they still make sense. Leaving aside the single letter, i.e. what should be the “indies”, because even here the simplification has led to such confusion as to require long and complex further investigations.

Double A

In limbo between the innumerable regions of independent games and those of the blockbuster for investment of human and economic resourcesthere are so-called video games “double a“, considered minor works for production value but sometimes able to surpass for their playful and artistic qualities even more noble and expensive works.

Very often the products belonging to this set are born within the realities of the sector which entrust smaller teams, internal or external, with the development of new and original works, producing and publishing them. We can consider for example an “AA” Life is Strangedeveloped by Dontnod under the aegis of Square-Enix and released in episodes to then be fixed on disk in its full version, continuing to exist and be played only in this form.

The public and critical success of Life is Strange has been universal, so much so that it has given rise to sequels and spin-offs, but it is difficult to assess what determines it as “AA” if not its budget and the “small” number of people who he accomplished it. Coldly mathematical questions, then. Because if Life is Strange was born as “AA” its collections and its success, its survival over time, are much higher than many triple “A” despite its launch price being lower, another feature of this type. An uninterested audience noting its media exposure, can therefore misunderstand Life is Strange as “AAA”. Transforming an “AA” into an “AAA” in the global perception, the demonstration of the superficiality of these definitions. It is said that in “AA” games it is more possible to take risks, to try something innovative both as regards the playful dynamics and the contents, and it is often true. Life is Strange touches and delves into topics such as depression, illness, bullying and suicide effectively, it is not an action but is based on dialectics, time and its voluntary manipulation.

However also The Last of Us Part 2 and God of War Ragnarok contain deep narratives with important themes and it is often said that these are designed to involve a wider audience, even if I believe that part of the user would have been happier (the countless controversies are more than known) if the authors had done less controversial choices and more digestible by “fans” at risk of disappointment. So even in the triple “A” you can be daring, you can maintain an identity and an artistic will that challenges the public instead of pleasing it.

The notables should be included in the double “A” category Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice and Returnal. The former overwhelms us with a continuous story about psychological discomfort of a pathological nature and it does so above all with a soundscape that surpasses many colossals in quality and success, so is it a partial “AA”?

Returnal by Housemarque (here our review of Returnal), seen and perceived by a player who ignores the definitions of the industry, could very well be understood as a great production for the spectacular variety of its environments and its refined aesthetics; so it would be an “AA” only for his orbit in the set of “rogues” and why developed by a team, like Housemarque, which is certainly not Naughty Dog in number of employees?

In short, in the clarity, further confusion coagulates and the only clarity in effectively defining an “AA” I find in the concise words of a Wikipedia or in the declarations of the industry itself: money and staff. One thing is certain, gamers need not only blockbusters but smaller works, confusing them and experimenting with them together with the immense productions without ghettoizing them, safeguarding and exalting them so that the video game does not fall into the swamp of a monotonous loop without risk (at least presumed) of some failure, but devoid of the traces of a passion. There is a need for the attitude of those who play is more like that of the cinephile (it’s getting close), able to appreciate cinema without dividing it into categories of production, but based on artistic quality. Or like the musicologistable to love a string quartet by Franz Schubert such as Gustav Mahler’s Symphony of the Thousand, for their musical qualities and not for unlike organic.

Triple A

That is, video games with immense production value, developed over years by huge teams, with the end credits lasting tens of minutes, sometimes wonderful, others not. They are works that sometimes consume those who work there, hanging on Metacritic averages and not just on sales. Perhaps an obsolete, baroque model of conceiving the video game, if only this chorality of intent, if administered and directed with passion and respect, sometimes it allows the birth of masterpieces.

The triple “A” are often tormented by some shadow, between the excessive and poorly protected work of the team members and the smart choices such as the addition of microtransactions or DLC already containable in advance but sold separately to monetize. I wonder if the public of enthusiasts really loves the triple “A” in this superb ostentation, so little humble in strength, because it happens that they are the most discussed if not sometimes reviled objects even when commercially successful.

These blockbusters need to sell and be critically acclaimed at the same time, so there’s a chance they’ll be developed more with cunning than with love, with intentions rather than ideas. I repeat, this is not always the case, there are extraordinary AAAs such as indies or mediocre AAs, but the effort and commitment required by these productions makes it more possible for questionable dynamics to arise, of sterile extensions of playful activity to lengthen the game time, because it is often essential that an AAA production, especially without multiplayer, should last tens of hours. This enormity of investment can cause a short-circuit, decree the extinction of a creative will that harks back to the heyday of Hollywood and ensure the survival of colossal games intended only as a serviceadapted and adaptable to the tastes and needs of the public over time, to the detriment of their own identity.

The triple “A” are both an opportunity and a danger for the game industry, the possibility of creating wonders with a magnificent chorus of artistic intent and work, or to collapse in the dull ruin of the trite, a heroic feat or a sinister will of hegemony.

The indefinable “quadruple A”

We began to talk about quadruple “A” with the even more mysterious Beyond Good & Evil 2 (here our preview of Beyond Good & Evil 2) which, in addition to the abandonment of Ancel, remains shrouded in mystery. In any case, that of quadruple A seems to me a very unglamorous definition, an inexplicable and almost desperate display of unimaginable capitals or production values ‚Äč‚Äčnever achieved before. Enthusiastic statements connected with the use of this term are likely to get a media boomerangletting audience expectations skyrocket, regardless of the actual characteristics of the production under the spotlight.

This is perhaps the case with The Callisto Protocol, defined as a quadruple “A” also in association with its visual presentation, but which in concrete terms – despite being a good product – is characterized by certain merits and understandable critical points attributable to a development supported by a talented team but in its first real test ( here the review of The Callisto Protocol). In general, it would be better that these determinations be abandonedin favor of classifications more oriented towards the value of that enterprise, human and not just banking or stock, which means, at all levels, creating a video game.



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